Gripped by Grace: Over All I Am and Have (Gen. 35:1-36:43)
We are wrapping up the life of Jacob today and the Gripped by Grace series. Today as we conclude, we will see that God’s grip of grace in Jacob’s life is stronger than his ability to grab things for himself in life. We saw Jacob conquered by God’s grace at the Jabbok River, over his self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, a small choice to partially obey and stay in Shechem instead of going 20 miles to Bethel costs him. He experiences a horrible tragedy of his daughter getting raped and his sons retaliating in murder. Jacob fails as a father and spiritual leader. His family is in chaos. His witness is ruined. Once again, God’s people show that they are good at demonstrating the fact that they are not worthy of carrying God’s promises, as they are faithless again and again. Yet, our hope is not in our faithfulness, but in God’s faithfulness, as He comes through yet again in the midst of the worst of situations.
Everything has fallen apart for Jacob. Chapter 34 was full of lust, murder, deceit and disobedience. God was not mentioned at all. Jacob’s heart has gone cold for the Lord. His devotion is lifeless. His eyes are dry. His heart is cold. He deserves nothing. How will God respond to him? And perhaps we are in a similar situation. We have drifted from the Lord. We haven’t prayed in days or weeks or even months or years. And our hearts maybe have become cold and dry and even hardened. It could even be despair. No matter where you have gone or what you have done, take note that God always does the same thing:
I. The call of revival (Gen. 35:1-4)
Again, I love how chapter 35 starts. You would have expected it to read: “And God said to Jacob, ‘Today you will die, you and the rest of your wicked family.’ And God grabbed Jacob along with his family, smashed their heads on the altar and called the altar, ‘Rejected.’” But notice that there is no mention of their sin or their wickedness. No mention of the length of disobedience, which was 10 years. Simply just a call to come home to Bethel, which means, “House of God.”
Right off, we see that the only thing you need for revival is need. You will always be invited back home to God. It does not matter the depth of length of our apathy or disobedience. It does not matter the blackness of our sin. His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood can change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone. Jesus can redeem you better than you can sin. And there is more grace in God’s heart than sin in ours. So no need to linger anymore outside the wall! Come home! The call is always there for you for revival.
What do I mean by revival? Well, I don’t mean an event. In church history, there were many revivals. It was a move of God over a church or even a nation or people group. Praise God for that. I want that and want to see more of that. But I am not talking about an event or an experience, but a lifestyle and a process of change. I mean revival is a renewed interest and passion for God and the things of God after a period of indifference and apathy. You came to the Lord and were following Him, but for whatever reason, you drifted off, wandered and now you get back on the track again and get fired up for God again (Ps 80:18; Ps. 85:6). This is revival. It is Jesus Christ experienced and enjoyed.
Revival is not for the unbeliever, because you can’t revive someone who is dead (Eph. 2:1). Unbelievers don’t need a revival. They need a “vival.” Revival is for the believer, though often when God revives His people, He brings life to the unbelievers as well. God wants this from us all the time. We need it every day! What does this call entail?
God calls Jacob to complete obedience again, which is to go to Bethel. Interestingly, God says to build an altar to “the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” Why does God bring up his distant past? He wants Jacob to remember how far God has brought him. He is triggering memories in Jacob.
Remember that Jacob? When you had messed up your life and ran away and you were left all alone and a stone was your pillow? Remember? And I came to you in grace. You had a dream that angels were all around you. I loved you then. I carried you to Laban’s place and now back. Look over at Gen. 35:3: “An altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” Notice the emphasis. It is not on Jacob’ vow he made in Gen. 28 or any of the foolishness he committed or even the sins of Gen. 34. It is on the faithfulness of God. Jacob looks back at God’s faithfulness. John Sailhamer writes, “That epithet serves as a fitting summary of the picture of God that has emerged from the Jacob narratives. Jacob was in constant distress; yet in each instance God remained faithful to his promise and delivered him.” God says “dwell here,” but that does not mean permanently. It means to fulfill the vow Jacob had made earlier. So Jacob leaves Bethel later (Gen. 35:16).
When you look back on your life or even the period of apathy, what do you see? Just your badness? Or His goodness in the midst of your badness? Your poverty or His generosity? Do you see just your faithlessness or His faithfulness in the midst of your faithlessness? Are you overwhelmed just with the depth of your depravity? Or are you overwhelmed with the depth of His grace as well? Do you see just the littleness of your love for Him or the bigness of His love for you? This is always the first process for a revived heart: a remembrance of God’s faithfulness despite our faithlessness. And where is the ultimate picture of God’s faithfulness despite our faithlessness? It’s the cross! There we see He came and faithfully died for us, unfaithful sinners. We need to be reminded of this more than instructed. Jacob was reminded of God’s faithfulness in his life. It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Jesus himself calls the church in Ephesus to remember their first love and repent (Rev. 2:5). They always go together. When you start to remember His kindness to you, you cannot but help to repent.
Notice what happens. God calls Jacob back to Him and to remember His faithfulness and kindness. Jacob finally takes some initiative in his family and tells them to get rid of the idols. They’ve been carrying idols around while they are God’s people! We know Rachel stole them from her dad when they left and hid them in the camel’s saddle (Gen. 31:34). Apparently, she and probably many others in their midst had idols all around they were praying to or seeking something from. If you look at Gen. 35:4, they got rid of some of their earrings. Most likely these are not every day earrings, but earrings that had symbols of various gods and superstitious ornaments they probably took from the Shechemites when they plundered them (Gen. 34:29). In fact, archaeological digs in other parts of Palestine have yielded crescent-shaped earrings that celebrated the moon god.
When we are away from the Lord, we are like fruit that is detached from the vine. What happens to that fruit? You not only start to rot and lose your vitality, but other things like fungus and bugs start to grow on top of it. So it’s not surprising that idols start to take God’s place in their lives when they are away from Him.
Really it is not that we ran away from God and now we are empty people. It is more like we ran away from God and filled ourselves with everything but the true and living God. We have filled ourselves with things in creation rather than the Creator. So the call to revival and repentance is to forsake the things we have sought to fill our emptiness. We have to forsake the god-replacements that have supplanted the true God in our lives. Repentance is a form of emptying the heart and filling it with God.
Notice that God didn’t mention anything about idols, but it was obvious. We cannot serve two masters. An idol is anything we look to that we think will quench the thirst of our hearts. It could be any good thing that we have made into a God-like thing. It could be a person, a thing or your need for approval, have a good reputation, or finding your worth in your career or your children or your love for money.
Pastor and Author Tim Keller says, “Archbishop William Temple once said, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.” In other words, the true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy daydreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? Do you develop potential scenarios about career advancement? Or material goods such as a dream home? Or a relationship with a particular person? One or two daydreams are not an indication of idolatry. Ask, rather, what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?”
Our problem is that we are trying to get rid of idols without looking at God. Worship is attributing worth to something. You express your love, affection and devotion to something that is most worthy of it. If it’s not God, it is the greatest insult to Him. It is sin to direct that adoration to something else and at the same time, we miss out because we were created for Him, so we lose the delight and joy we were created to revel in. Whatever we worship, we serve.
Whenever we worship something we are saying, “This is worth more.” That automatically means whatever we were worshipping and even us as the worshipper needs to say, “This is worth less.”
Repenting is not just feeling bad, it is coming home to God and giving the right allegiance and devotion to Him, because He is the One who deserves it. Here is a trick I learned in parenting to get my kids to let go of something. This is really an illustration of the power of worship. For example, if the toddler picks up a scissor or a knife, you can try to yank it away. That might be dangerous because one wrong move and everyone can die. However, there is the law of distraction. Present an opportunity of a greater love to grab and the smaller love will lose its grip. Look at this candy Annabelle. Yum! Down goes the knife. This knife is worth less and this candy is worth more.
So repentance is not simply removing the idols, but replacing them with God. Idols need to be replaced not just removed. So the “Put away” in Gen. 35:2 is followed by “Let us arise and build an altar” in Gen. 35:3. A similar picture is given in the way they cleanse themselves and put on new clothes. Not only do they give up their idols, they also purify themselves and change their clothes. Washing the body and changing clothes symbolize making a new beginning. Like dirt, sin is defiling and must be washed away. Again, removing the old and replacing it with the new.
To be honest, most of our reasons for our repentance are relief and fear of consequences than breaking God’s heart. But God’s grace is so scandalous. He receives us not on the basis of how well we have repented, but on the basis of what Christ’s merit.
I see this tendency in my heart, where later in the week like Thursday, for example, I feel a greater need to be close to the Lord, to be in prayer, in the Word and serve people. But Mondays to Wednesdays, I see it is easy for me to be lazy and apathetic. One Thursday it hit me where I saw that the real reason I wanted to come close to the Lord was because I needed help with the sermon and getting ready for a busy ministry weekend. I don’t want to look like a fool on Sunday, so God, I love you and need you to help me look good. And I felt so disgusted at myself. It is one of those moments you’re like, “I am not even good at repentance. I can’t even repent right. I need to repent of my repentance!” I was really discouraged.
At that time I remember reading a chapter from Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel (I love this book!). In talking about the prodigal son story, he writes: “The emphasis of Christ’s story is not on the sinfulness of the son but on the generosity of the Father. We ought to reread this parable periodically if only to catch the delicate nuance at the first meeting between the two. The son had his speech carefully rehearsed; it was an elegant, polished statement of sorrow. But the old man didn’t let him finish. The son had barely arrived on the scene when, suddenly, a fine new robe was thrown over his shoulders. He hears music, the fatted calf is being carried into the parlor, and he doesn’t even have a chance to say to his father, “I’m sorry.” God wants us back even more than we could possibly want to be back. We don’t have to go into great detail about our sorrow. All we have to do, the parable says, is appear on the scene, and before we get a chance to run away again, the Father grabs us and pulls us into the banquet so we can’t get away.”
Later he says, “When the prodigal son limped home from his lengthy binge of waste and wandering, boozing and womanizing, his motives were mixed at best. He said to himself, “How many of my father’s hired men have all the food they want and more, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father.” (Luke 15:17–18). The ragamuffin stomach was not churning with compunction because he had broken his father’s heart. He stumbled home simply to survive. His sojourn in a far country had left him bankrupt. The days of wine and roses had left him dazed and disillusioned. The wine soured and the roses withered.
His declaration of independence had reaped an unexpected harvest: not freedom, joy, and new life but bondage, gloom, and a brush with death. His fair-weather friends had shifted their allegiance when his piggy bank emptied. Disenchanted with life, the wastrel weaved his way home, not from a burning desire to see his father, but just to stay alive. For me, the most touching verse in the entire Bible is the father’s response: “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). I am moved that the father didn’t cross-examine the boy, bully him, lecture him on ingratitude, or insist on any high motivation. He was so overjoyed at the sight of his son that he ignored all the canons of prudence and parental discretion and simply welcomed him home. The father took him back just as he was.
What a word of encouragement, consolation, and comfort! We don’t have to sift our hearts and analyze our intentions before returning home. Abba just wants us to show up. We don’t have to tarry at the tavern until purity of heart arrives. We don’t have to be shredded with sorrow or crushed with contrition. We don’t have to be perfect or even very good before God will accept us. We don’t have to wallow in guilt, shame, remorse, and self-condemnation. Even if we still nurse a secret nostalgia for the far country, Abba falls on our neck and kisses us. Even if we come back because we couldn’t make it on our own, God will welcome us. He will seek no explanations about our sudden appearance. He is glad we are there and wants to give us all we desire. “ God says, “Come home. The light is always on at my house. The table is always set and my hands are wide open.”
What a river of grace that flooded my soul when I realized that! I am still working on going home just to be with my Father and the more I show up, the more I am seeing that ultimately being with my Father is a lot better than my fear. God calls us to revival, which entails us to remember and to repent, but another way of saying, “Come home.” Notice secondly:
II. The response of God in revival (Gen. 35: 5-7, 9-10)
Jacob makes one small move toward the Lord and the Lord makes 20. Look at how God responds to His covenant people when they forsake their idols and half-hearted obedience and run toward Him:
a) Growing freedom from fear of man
When God’s people started to fear God, the fear of man started to vanish. After the murderous assault on the Shechemites by Simeon and Levi, Jacob was afraid the people of the land would attack him (34:30), but God kept His promise (28:15) and cared for Jacob and his people as they moved toward Bethel. God protected Jacob and his entourage as they journeyed (Gen. 35:5). The fear of God does not mean we should be afraid of God, but it is the dread of displeasing God and the delight found in pleasing Him. When we fear man, we are controlled by displeasing people and we delight in pleasing people. The Bible says the fear of man is a snare (Prov. 29:25). It controls you and traps and ruins your life.
As Ed Welch says, “ALL experiences of the fear of man share at least one common feature: People are big. They have grown to idolatrous proportions in our lives. They control us. Since there is no room in our hearts to worship both God and people, whenever people are big, God is not. Therefore, the first task in escaping the snare of the fear of man is to know that God is awesome and glorious, not other people.” When we are unrevived and dying spiritually, God becomes small and our fears become big. But in a revived heart, God picks us up and hoists us on His shoulders and though the fears and struggles are there and circumstances haven’t changed, we see His bigness, our smallness and the smallness of our situation compared to Him. God also gives us:
b) Increased awareness of God’s sufficiency
They come to Bethel and Jacob builds an altar calls it, “El-Bethel.” What does that mean? It means, “God of the House.” See the difference? He called it El Bethel, that is, “God of the house of God.” His focus has shifted. His perception has been elevated. It’s not about the place anymore, but about the God who is there. It is not about what God can do for me, but who God is.
When God revives our heart, nothing else matters than the person of Jesus, the glory of Jesus and the name of Jesus. There is an end to self-dependence. There is a longing for Him. “Revival is ultimately Christ Himself, seen, felt, heard, living, active, moving in and through His body on earth,” as Stephen Alford once said. Later God calls Himself, “I am God Almighty.” This means El-Shaddai , the All-Sufficient One. God also gives us:
c) Realignment of our identity in God
God draws near to Jacob and renews the covenant with him. Why? Because Jacob moved away from being in covenant with God. So God has to go over it again. And God goes straight to Jacob’s identity. Commentator Victor Hamilton says, “Jacob is reminded that he returns to Canaan not as Jacob but as Israel. He is not only to bury the foreign gods, but he is to bury what has become for all practical purposes a foreign nature—a Jacob nature.” Remember at the end of Gen. 34 that all Jacob cared about was himself?
Remember the limp Jacob. You are Israel. You are not identified as your past, the “heel grabber.” No, you are identified in relation to me, Israel, “the one who strives against God.” That might sound like a negative name, but as we looked at the wrestling match, we know that God actually rewards him with that name.
What joy Jacob must have experienced with God delighting over him like this. This is where we find joy. When Jesus is elevated and cherished and given the throne of my heart and self is diminished and I throw myself completely on Him, I find joy. God is in His place and I am in mine. This always brings joy. I am no longer finding my identity in other things, but in who He has called me to be.
III. The reality of revival is lived out by God’s promises (Gen. 35: 8,11-36:43)
God calls Jacob and his people back to the original call: be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 35:11; Gen. 1:28). That meant to fill the earth with God’s glory, i.e. with the weight of who God is. This shows Jacob and Israel, “You guys are still the right people for my job.” Wow! Remember again that God only brings us in always to send us out. Revival is not for us, but for those who have yet still to hear His name. God promises Israel that kings will come from them and that the land itself will be given to them as a gift. Jacob will not see any of these promises, like Abraham and Isaac had not either. Yet God calls him to live by faith, not by explanations.
God calls His people to stay in covenant with Him and as long as they do that by revival, God will take care of the rest of their lives. But what did this mean for Jacob? Now that he’s revived, this did not mean a problem free life. A revived life does not mean a problem-free life. He faces four tragedies. His beloved mother’s maid Deborah dies (Gen. 35:8). No mention is made of Rebekah’s death. Perhaps this is because of her deception of Jacob? Then Rachel, his beloved bride, dies in childbirth (Gen. 35:16-21). What is the source of fruitfulness, tribes, and kings promised to Jacob (v. 11) with Rachel deceased? Jacob has to live by promises of God, not explanations.
Then Reuben has an affair with Bilhah, who was Rachel’s servant and mother of Reuben’s stepbrother’s Dan and Naphtali. Why would he do this? Scholars think this was more than a sexual play. First of all, by his act, he hoped to prevent Rachel’s maid succeeding Rachel as his father’s favorite wife. Reuben resented that Jacob did not honor his mother Leah. Secondly, it was a ploy to take control of his father’s authority. When you did something like that, it is almost like looking at your father and saying, “I am going to be the leader of this family.” It was extremely disrespectful and heartbreaking to the patriarch of a family. Jacob must have been like, “How is God ever going to fulfill His promises through my family, when my son acts like this?” The answer is, the same way He did through you: grace. Jacob had to live by God’s promises and not by explanations or how his circumstances seemed to be.
The fourth sad event was his father’s death (Gen. 35:28-29). Why mention this? Sailhamer says, “The purpose of this notice is not simply to record Isaac’s death but rather to show the complete fulfillment of God’s promise to Jacob (28:21). According to Jacob’s vow, he had asked that God watch over him during his sojourn and return him safely to the house of his father. Thus the conclusion of the narrative marks the final fulfillment of these words as Jacob returned to the house of his father, Isaac, before he died.” This also brought him with Esau again, briefly. When you look at Genesis 36, you might again be tempted to think if following God was worth it. Esau is pretty prosperous. They seem to have chiefs and land and kings (Gen. 36:31). Israel might be have wondered, “What about us o God? What happened to your promises to us?” Well, the story of Esau ends in Genesis 36. He is the father of the Edomites, the enemy of Israel. But God’s story with Israel still continued. One commentator adds, “Perhaps the major lesson of this genealogy is that secular greatness develops faster than spiritual greatness. Consequently the godly must wait patiently for the fulfillment of God’s promises.”
Our circumstances often quench the reality of revival. It is then that we must continue to keep coming back to God. Author Stephen Davey shares a story of when someone once came to evangelist Billy Sunday (this was in the early 1900s) complaining. He said, “I’ve confessed, tried, failed so many times—revival does not last.” His point was that since “personal revival wasn’t a permanent end-all to temptation, sin, and failure, revival wasn’t important.” Billy Sunday looked at him and said, “A bath doesn’t last either, but it’s good to have one occasionally.”
Paul says in 2 Cor. 4:7 that we are like “cracked pots” in which the Father has chosen to put His priceless treasure of Christ. So as cracked pots, we will often leak. Revival is not a one time or once a year thing. It is a daily thing, like a bath or shower (I hope you take one every day!). How do you keep cracked pots filled with water? You keep it always under a running faucet! This is why God commands us to keep being filled by the Spirit. This is because we leak. And the people of Israel needed to continue to run to God, despite their own sin, their circumstances and anything else that caused their revival waters to leak out.
What a loving and gracious God we have! But remember that God never did ignore or excuse Jacob or Israel’s sin. The reason He can invite them back to Bethel and experience revival is because one day, the ultimate king from Israel’s body, God Himself, will come and pay for Israel’s sin and bring us all back home.
How was Gen. 35 supposed to start? Like I said before, you would have expected it to read: “And God said to Jacob, ‘Today you will die, you and the rest of your wicked family.’ And God grabbed Jacob along with his family, smashed their heads on the altar and called the altar, ‘Rejected.’ But that’s exactly what happened to the offspring of Israel, Jesus Christ. God placed Him on the altar. God did not spare His Son, but freely gave Him up. God rejected Him, so we could be accepted. Jacob (and we as well) get the presence of God because God took it away from His only Son. Jacob pours out a drink offering, but Christ Himself is poured out for our sin. We are spared because Christ was not. We are not treated as our sins deserve because Christ was treated for sins that He did not deserve.
This is why the light is always on, the door is open and the arms extended to you at the Father’s house, the house of God. This is why revival is available to us. We get to go home and have a home because Jesus lost His home so we can get it. So look away from your self, your sin and your wanderings. Look unto the altar of all altars: the cross of Jesus. As Spurgeon says, “…The Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that “Christ is all in all.” Remember, therefore, it is not [your] hold of Christ that saves [you]—it is Christ; it is not [your] joy in Christ that saves [you]—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to [your] hand with which [you are] grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to [your] hope, but to Jesus, the source of [your] hope; look not to [your] faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of [your] faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.” Keep [your] eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon [your] mind; when [you wake] in the morning look to him; when [you lie] down at night look to him. Oh! let not [your] hopes or fears come between [you] and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail [you].
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
Sailhamer, J. H. (1990). Genesis. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (217). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word (421). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Lane, Tim and Paul D. Tripp. (2008). How People Change (22-23). Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.
As quoted in http://thisjourneyismyown.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/personal-thoughts-on-tim-kellers-book-counterfeit-gods/ accessed 31 August 2012.
Macdonald, J. (2012). Vertical Church (167). Colorado Springs, CO: David Cook.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be Authentic. “Be” Commentary Series (68). Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor
Manning, Brennan (2008-08-19). The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled,
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Ibid. Kindle Locations 2110-2124.
Wiersbe, W. W. (69).
Welch, Edward (1997). When People are Big and God is Small (95). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&P Publishing.
Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (838). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
As quoted in http://www.goodpassage.com/articles/quotes_about_revival.htm accessed 31 August
Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50. The New International Commentary on the
Old Testament (381). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Hamilton, V. P. (386).
Wenham, G. J. (1998). Vol. 2: Genesis 16–50. Word Biblical Commentary (327). Dallas: Word,
Sailhamer, J. H. (220).
Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Ge 35:28). Galaxie
Davey, S. (2005). Nehemiah: Memoirs of an Ordinary Man (149). Greenville, SC; Belfast, Northern Ireland:
Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and Evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern
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